I’ve been curious to check out the Consciousness Explorers Club since I caught the CEC’s President, Jeff Warren on TVO as part of a panel discussion on Mindfulness and Mental Health on the Agenda. Here was a smart journalist and advocate for mindfulness, heading up a progressive, secular group right here in Toronto. My curiosity was piqued so I Googled them.
CEC’s website was an unexpected breath of fresh air. It wins hands down as the funniest site I’ve ever seen for a meditation group. A quick read of the collective’s self-deprecating bios offered more than a few chuckles. they’re a sort of merry band of accomplished, creative, socially aware people – an emergency room doctor, another writer, theatre and film artists, and a philosopher – who take meditation, but not themselves, quite seriously.
I’d wanted to try a CEC session out for some time. When the November listing of their Monday night explorations (more on those below) included a ‘Technology and Attention’ session that included interactive meditation practice with smartphones, I couldn’t resist. It was like the universe sent me a text.
So I put on some comfortable pants and pedaled west to College Street’s ‘oh so hip’ Octopus Garden Holistic Yoga Centre to sit circle with the tribe.
I wasn’t disappointed.
By its description and demographic, the experience could have turned out to be a self-indulgent co-opting of a non-European spiritual tradition by young urban professionals.
It wasn’t like that at all. The crowd was young and hip, but the room was free of pretension, and the session was authentic and uplifting.
The energy in the room was palpable. In contrast to the quiet you experience when arriving in a more conventional meditation setting, the chatter as the group began setting up had the energy of a first day of school. However, all was quiet when the practice began.
Monday night explorations are divided into two 45-minute parts: a (guided) sitting meditation practice, followed by ‘interactive practice, play and discussion’.
For me, forty-five minutes is quite long at this early stage of starting to meditate, but the guide helped me adjust the breath and posture to increase alertness and energy. I won’t pretend I achieved complete stillness. I struggled with acute pins and needles in my right leg, but I did manage a respectable degree of concentration. The guided session ended with a short loving kindness meditation, as I gather is the CEC norm.
The interactive practice, “Addicted to Dopamine”, part of a November program of sessions exploring trance. In this session, participants were asked to observe the effects of their interactions with their ‘personal hypnosis devices – AKA their smartphones’.
From the program description: “Have you ever really paid attention to inside experience of texting and emailing and surfing? That’s what we’ll do here. Surf the dopamine hits. And maybe get a little insight about the compulsive nature of our collective tech-habit.”
The smartphone exercise was followed by group discussion about people’s relationship with technology and how it affects well-being. Themes that came out in discussion included physical and emotional reactions to communication, differences in relationship to technology between generations, and how technology manipulates our neural reward system for commercial purposes.
One of the reasons I’ve taking up meditation is to counter the mental effects I experience from digital/social information overload, and these are becoming a hot topic for researchers. Here’s one psychologist’s discussion of social media’s effects on attention span, and the neurological impacts of multitasking – curious to hear about other people’s perspectives.
To wrap up, CEC was a truly positive mindfulness experience in a really unique context. I’d describe it as applied mindfulness (a term Warren used on the TVO panel), combining a flexible approach to practice with a unique opportunity for thoughtful, interactive engagement.
Octopus Garden Yoga
967 College Street (West of Dovercourt)
- Monday nights, 7:25 pm
- $12 fee (to cover space, teaching and programming)
Other programming includes:
CEC describes itself as “a non-profit meditative think-tank and community hub that supports personal growth through carefully curated courses, retreats, events, and weekly guided meditation and social practices.” With a humanistic and pluralistic outlook, they integrate insight and practices from contemporary culture and science with those from contemplative traditions, in particular mindfulness. Jeff Warren trained with Buddhist teacher Shinzen Young.